A Very Classic Weekend

DSC_0271I watched the first episode of Simon Schama’s two-part Shakespeare last Friday, and found it very well made, explaining Shakespeare’s role in his own time, and his relevance to ours, 450 years afterwards. Interspersed with mock  historic recordings and powerful modern renditions of noteworthy snippets from the bard’s plays, Simon’s tale spans a bridge from Elizabethan times all the way to the 2011 riots in England. Brilliantly done.

I enjoyed this so much that I watched the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet with David Tennant, Patrick Steward (and others) again, something I meant to do for a while. Simon’s TV programme brought me just into the right mood for that, and I enjoyed it on Saturday night.

Finally, the BBC closed the weekend on Sunday night with Julius Caesar, a televised version of another Royal Shakespeare Company production, set in present-day Africa. A brilliant production which tells the tale of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as well as that of many present day African states and their state of civil war.

I rounded it up as a truly classic weekend with a classic meal on Saturday evening. Grass widower that I am, this can only mean one thing: a nice, organic and well hung Sirloin steak, gently fried to medium-rare in rosemary-infused olive oil, served with Sauce Béarnaise and chip potatoes (though without green beans on this occasion). I even made myself a little Crème Brule for pudding, how’s that for a classic meal?

Not sure if the good wife would have liked the Shakespearean marathon, but the meal would have certainly met with her approval.


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Hard Disk Treasure

weatherProject Like for many of you, our hard disk TV recording gear collects recordings that we never watch. Every couple of weeks, I check what it has automatically recorded for me, and throw away numerous episodes of various comedy programmes and the likes.

Doing so, I have at times found forgotten treasures, recordings I no longer knew I had. Last nights treasure find was a recording of the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s Hamlet with David Tennant as Hamlet, and Patrick Stewart as Claudius (DVD).

183 minutes, no interval, and every minute well worth watching.

I am a late starter with Shakespeare. I excuse this with my German upbringing, although I cannot really claim that my strengths lie with Goethe or Schiller. No matter what your excuses are, however, there is little excuse not to watch this beautifully filmed and stunningly performed Hamlet.


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Bah! Humbug!

The 2009 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree We have great sympathy for the Questors Theatre, a very large amateur theatre near by, that often provides acting and staging to very high standards. We’ve been members for over a decade (active at times), and always been actively promoting the theatre.

How embarrassing, however, to take a friend to this years’ Christmas production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

A traditional staging without any attempt to re-tell the tale in a way fit for children of the 21st century. We should have been warned by the poster, but even within the confines of the traditional interpretation, Questor’s A Christmas Carol failed to impress:

The tragedy begins with Ebenezer Scrooge, who is a far cry from being a bitter, angry, grumpy old man. He was in fact outright friendly and smiling from the beginning, and the occasional Bah, Humbug! didn’t change that.

The ghosts were laughably unimaginative, appearing in white (but ghostly illuminated) bed sheets, as Santa Claus, and all covered in black veil with the occasional ghostly waves of arms. I didn’t take the time to match their appearance with the book, and they might well match Dickens’ description, but I am sure one could have done a better job staging them, ghostly dress-code aside.

Rare exceptions aside, acting was below the usual standards, and only a few actors stood out with clear enunciation. Directions were unimaginative to say the least, and ill-advised when it came to balancing the sound levels of speech versus background atmosphere brought in from the tape. The best moment was certainly a morning scene when couples from the houses look out of their windows commenting, because the house on the left must have been the YMCA and the one on the right a house for fallen women (or maybe the suffragettes HQ).

Even the snowball fight failed to bring fun into the theatre: the stage children weren’t given real snow balls or any stage equivalent thereof, but had to mime it empty handed. This clearly took the fun out of it for them and failed to bring any fun into the auditorium.

The fun came back at the end, when the staging of snowfall brought in more than just a chuckle, as 1 1/2 small handfuls on white confetti rained down on a 3 square feet area in centre stage.

Too bad the best jokes of the show were all unintended.

For Questors and their ongoing quest to find and increase public recognition, one can only hope they’ll do better next year.

My applause goes to the many children in the audience, who sat very bravely and well-behaved through a 2 hour production that failed to bring either scare or fun into their lives,  sparkle into their eyes or Christmas Cheer into their hearts.


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The Pitmen Painters

pit We are members and fairly frequent visitors to our favourite, local, and pretty good quality amateur theatre. Every once in a while, however, we venture into town for a professional production. Last weekend, we went to the National Theatre‘s Lyttleton Theatre for The Pitmen Painters.

This is a play about the Ashington Group, a group of North England miners, who started to paint and rose to fame in the 1930s. How nice. We are already making plans for a long weekend in Northumberland.

I can’t really say this is the ultimate play to see – it’s good, but doesn’t deserve a place among the top twenty plays of all time.

I can’t really say this was the best acting ever – it was good, but again, not extraordinary.

What made this play so fascinating is that the playwright, Lee Hall, understands the process of discovering art through the process of discovering painting extremely well. I could find myself and my own experience in this matter many times over during the play.

The worst thing was that the play describes a painfully slow process, that took many weeks and months, in little over two hours, with a vast amount of key events and personal development crammed into the first act. Those events had to come all too quickly and in rapid succession within the time permitted for the play; maybe the play should have told a shorter part of the Ashington Group’s story.

A very good evening though. Enjoyable and recommended.


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